Full Fat Coconut Milk or Half-n-Half?

Q: Which is better: full fat coconut milk or half-n-half (cream/milk)?
They both include sat fats. And isn’t coconut milk higher in fats and calories?

This dietitian took her research to heart to determine just which may be the healthier choice to add to her coffee.

Weighing In:

Vegan diets (and vegetarian) diets may be associated with lowered heart disease related issues (including cholesterol, blood pressure, hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes)… and even cancers, according to scientific studies. And this is examined in the documentary Forks Over Knives – limiting animal products and processed foods in favor of a more plant-based food diet.

I recently read an interview with Robert Cohen, author of “Milk, the Deadly Poison”. Although I still believe low fat or skim organic milk – grass fed cows, can be part of a healthy diet, this information was helpful in researching which may be a healthier choice (full fat coconut milk or half and half). Because half and half includes some cream (full fat) – even though generally used in small amounts for coffee – I do believe low fat or skim organic milk or (in reference to this question) coconut milk to be a better choice.

It is known that coconut contains a high amount of saturated fats (and in fact whole coconut milk contains more sat fats than an equal portion of half and half. But the saturated fats in coconut (mainly medium chain triglycerides vs long-chain triglycerides in the majority of other fats/oils eaten) are different from those found in animal products. Using small amounts of coconut oil in the diet may in fact benefit nutritionally, according to The Coconut Research Center:

  • Improves digestion and absorption of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
  • Improves insulin secretion and utilization of blood glucose.
  • Relieves stress on pancreatic and enzymatic systems of the body.
  • Reduces symptoms associated with pancreatitis.
  • Helps relieve symptoms and reduce health risks associated with diabetes
    (for more info. visit this coconut research site)

Studies have shown it to raise HDL (good) cholesterol which can help keep bad cholesterol within normal limits. Saturated fats found in animal products have not shown the same benefit in HDL improvement. But coconut, like other saturated fats, is also likely to raise your LDL (bad cholesterol) as well – even though research is not entirely clear. The key, of course, is moderation.

My recommendation:

One TBS (of whole coconut milk) to flavor and add mouthfeel to coffee is what I’d consider a healthy amount. And because of the high fat content/ sat fats, one should be finding ways to minimally add this plant food to the diet – this being a simple way. On the contrast, adding in the cream / milk (content of half and half), in my opinion, does not add any significant health benefit. Thus this dietitian sides in favor of the coconut milk.

When choosing a coconut milk, note that there are several options available. Some are full-fat and others are created to be lower in fat/calories. However, do read the labels, choosing a low-fat / lower calorie coconut milk may include additional ingredients you may not want, including added sugars and chemicals to support a modified, more pleasant taste. I think just a small amount of pure, unadulterated coconut milk may be just fine. Remember, the key is moderation. But if you are watching your calories, I’d recommend: So Delicious Coconut milk, unsweetened.

Was this article helpful? What are your thoughts/insights?

For your questions answered, visit MacnMo’s “Ask Nutri-Savvy” Advice column on Fridays.

18 thoughts on “Full Fat Coconut Milk or Half-n-Half?

    • Hi Jamie. Good question. I would have to check. But I’ve considered making my own ‘coconut milk’ from whole coconut. I buy So Delicious, unsweetened, plain which is in a carton – and it isn’t full-fat. You are probably right on the can deal. I hardly buy canned products, but mostly because of the sodium content and/or lousy taste. lol!

    • One brand of coconut milk not in a can is Silk Pure Coconut milk. It’s in a tetra pac like box/carton. If this is unavailable in your area, visit their website to see where you can purchase it.

  1. Hi nicely said! I did try to add coconut milk to my coffee and I found out that to get the mouth feel that is expected from a cup of coffee with milk I needed to add 2 tbs and a half- wouldn’t that be too much saturated fat?
    another question: how reliable and subjective research from coconut research on any health benefits?- I think most of the data is dressed up for marketing purposes- not much is there.
    There is no mechanism that makes saturated fats improves digestion or pancreatitis…if any thing fiber and antioxidants might play a role as in whole coconut more likely than in milk.

    • Thank you for reading and your thoughtful input.

      Yes, you are probably right regarding antioxidants/fiber contained in whole coconut adding to health benefits. Research has shown the sat. fats to be different in the coconut as compared to the animal product (milk/cream) – which I think I linked.

      Yes, there may be some marketing bias but I’ve heard / seen more research on heart healthy benefits of coconut (outside of the Coconut Board) than milk/cream. Yes, milk has nutritional benefits – but I’d recommend low-fat (not whole milk or cream).

      BTW: Have you heard of Body Ecology Diet – the author has done quite a bit of research on benefit of coconut.

  2. Ummfatimah,
    In answer to your question, consuming 2.5 TBS of whole coconut milk would not push you over your daily limit of sat fats (provided you don’t load up on other sat fat containing products). According to the American Heart Assoc., a person requiring 2000 cal/day should consume less than 16g sat fat per day. 2.5 TBS of coconut milk is 88 cal, with 8g sat fats, according to CalorieCount.com.


    Note: I’m a fan of mixing it up. Meaning I sometimes use unsweetened soy milk and other times unsweetened almond or coconut milk in my daily coffee or espresso (try mixing whole coconut milk with unsweetened plain So Delicious – and see how that works).

    • That is brilliant! Trying that tomorrow. I have both and I’ve been going back and forth. I’ve used So Delicious unsweetened for a couple years in smoothies, oatmeal and cereal etc. It’s just not quite heavy enough for my espresso and the almond milk taste is too strong. I’m trying so hard to kick the half and half.

  3. Jeez, I may be the only one who doesn’t LIKE the taste of coconut milk (or anything coconut for that matter! :) I do agree on the health benefits and I believe Trader Joe’s also sells it in boxes! Great information, Lauren!

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  6. I pretty much disregarded the rest of the article when you said that you believe low fat milk is ok but full fat is not. The low fat train left the station long ago.

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